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Maker: Aspen Golann

Maker: Aspen Golann

Maker: Aspen Golann

Spring 2022 issue of American Craft magazine
Author Claire Voon
grayscale photo of a woodworker splitting a log in the back of a truck
grayscale photo of a woodworker splitting a log in the back of a truck

Aspen Golann splits wood outside her studio. Photo by Lucy Plato Clark.

Near Boston one afternoon, Aspen Golann is hunting for a log. “You have me on a log day,” she says, explaining that she will carve the felled specimen into a replica of a 1770s settee, at Colonial Williamsburg’s annual Working Wood in the 18th Century conference. “It’s about as nerdy as it gets.”

Five years ago, Golann didn’t know how to cut dovetails, much less build a historically accurate chair from scratch. Then she enrolled at Boston’s North Bennet Street School for 17th- and 18th-century-style American furniture-making. For Golann, whose previous fascinations include sailing, bookbinding, and sheep shearing (for weaving), woodworking was a natural jump. “I could take or leave American period furniture,” she says. “I was looking at it like a series of skills represented by objects. I wanted that deep understanding of materials you get from learning to do stuff by hand.”

portrait of a woodworker in studio standing at bench with tools and chair work in progress

Golann at work in her studio. Photo by Loam.

Golann is now known for invigorating classic furniture forms with ornate contemporary designs. Her take on a Sheraton chair features a face in marquetry—meaning the wood is inlaid—gazing from its splat, rather than a traditional burl. One Windsor settee received a witchy black paint job with water-gilded details. Decorative elements like these can sometimes deliver subversive messages. Case in point: the enameled glass doors of one mahogany cabinet, painted with hands holding drapery. “When you open it,” Golann says, “you’re sort of removing its clothing. It turns that cabinet into a female body.”

black windsor style settee chair with black paint

LEFT: Golann and collaborator Peter Galbert combine oak, maple, and pine in this Curved Windsor Settee, 2019, 45 x 80 x 38 in. Photo by Aspen Golann. RIGHT: Hands holding drapery can be seen in the hand-enameled glass of this Partially Draped Cabinet, 2019, 50 x 48 x 18 in. Photo by Lance Patterson.

mahogany cabinet with enameled glass doors

Thinking about furniture parts—legs, backs, carcasses—led Golann to approach her pieces like feminized forms. They became objects that “speak honestly and brutally,” she says, to her experiences as a queer woman in her craft. “Feeling othered, not fitting in, I find ways to blend while being fully, authentically me. . . . Thinking about the broader context of American period furniture—I wouldn’t have been invited into these spaces in that era.”

Last September, Golann launched The Chairmaker’s Toolbox, a project that promotes tools fashioned by historically underrepresented toolmakers and offers free or sliding-scale chair-making classes. “The goal is to do a chair tour—throw a log in a truck and travel around the country teaching historically excluded woodworkers, using these tools,” Golann says. “It’s obvious that this work needs to happen. Until launching, I struggled to find more than a few people willing to acknowledge the degree of institutionalized racism that exists in woodworking.” The Chairmaker’s Toolbox also includes The Living Tools project, which offers retiring woodworkers the opportunity to donate tools to early-in-their-career furniture makers.

wooden brush with natural fibers and a handle that you pinch your fingers into

LEFT: Yellow and black maple veneers interact in Woven Brush, 2020, 6 x 4 x 5.5 in. RIGHT: Double Loop, 2020, 7 x 2 x .75 in. in black walnut. Photos by Loam.

wooden brush with natrural fibers and a handle made from two stacked rings

During the pandemic, Golann began making small-scale objects such as handheld brushes. Whimsical and sinuous, these semi-functional sculptures are crafted with inlay designs and demonstrate how she endlessly pushes her skills in unexpected directions. “I think of American furniture styles and aesthetics as a language, and it usually says certain things,” Golann says. “I like to use that language to say other stuff, to talk about my own experience. . . .I like rules I can push up against." | @aspen_golann

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stack of four issues of american craft with the spring 2022 issue on top